England's chastised cricketers demonstrated a new-found resolve in the third ODI against New Zealand in Auckland, and hauled themselves back into contention in the series with a hard-earned but ultimately comfortable six-wicket victory. After winning the toss and bowling first, England might have imagined an easier day's work when New Zealand slumped to 95 for 6 midway through their innings, but a flamboyant 88 from Jacob Oram ensured a stiff rain-adjusted target of 229. Fittingly, after one or two alarms, it was left to England's captain, Paul Collingwood, to seal the match with a fusillade of boundaries. He finished on 70 not out from 50 balls.
For Collingwood personally, it was a triumphant day - he also picked up 3 for 43 with his medium-pacers. But the collective morale boost was of far greater consequence to his side. England's one-day fortunes have known some dog-days in recent years, but their ten-wicket defeat at Hamilton on Tuesday was about as bad as it has ever been. At 2-0 down in the series, anything less than victory in this game would have been curtains for the series.
That prospect, however, didn't look remotely likely during the opening exchanges of today's contest. At Hamilton, New Zealand's openers, Brendon McCullum and Jesse Ryder, added 165 unbeaten runs in just 18.1 overs. This time they were parted before the end of the second over, and New Zealand went on to lose three more wickets inside the first 15. It was James Anderson who removed both men - McCullum to a fifth-ball bouncer and Ryder to a mistimed pull to deep midwicket - having located that extra yard of pace and aggression that he had mysteriously mislaid in his previous outing.
Stuart Broad also struck twice in his first spell. Jamie How steered a low catch to Collingwood in the gully before the off-colour Scott Styris top-edged a bouncer to midwicket, and at 53 for 4, New Zealand's ropey middle-order had been exposed. Collingwood picked up his first wicket when Peter Fulton, with his feet stuck in treacle, was bowled through the gate for a tortuous 4 from 25 balls, and he struck again soon afterwards when Ross Taylor was adjudged lbw by a flustered Asaf Rauf. Rauf had just been forced to call a dead-ball for a slogged six over midwicket, because he had not been watching the action when the delivery was bowled.
At 95 for 6, all New Zealand's hopes were invested in Oram, and he didn't disappoint. On 5, he was very lucky to survive a confident lbw appeal from Ryan Sidebottom, but he made his life count with another innings of intense power and perfect timing. He combined with Daniel Vettori in a seventh-wicket stand of 74 to take the sting out of the scoreline and then, when Vettori picked out Owais Shah with a flat pull to wide long-on, he took up the cudgels with a stunning square drive for six off Mascarenhas, and consecutive sixes in Broad's final over, to dent his otherwise excellent figures of 3 for 32.
Ian Bell produced a superb catch running back at midwicket to deny Oram a shot at a century, but New Zealand's total of 234 for 9 was considerably more than England had bargained for. It was soon put into some sort of context when England lost both their openers inside the first eight overs. Phil Mustard slogged two fours and a top-edged six in another frenetic innings, but then became England's seventh run-out victim in 21 dismissals when he unwisely took on Vettori's arm at mid-off. Then, following a brief rain break, Alastair Cook lost patience after batting out consecutive maidens, and pulled loosely to mid-on.
The sting of England's chase, however, was absorbed by Bell and Kevin Pietersen, who added 107 for the third wicket in unexpectedly contrasting styles. Bell was the aggressor, using his feet well to force the ball through the covers and over long-on; Pietersen was strangely subdued, trying but failing to find his timing as New Zealand's medium-pacers cramped his style. Nevertheless, while the pair were in harness, England were in full control of their destiny. The threat of rain spurred Pietersen into action with three fours in a row off Paul Hitchcock, but Vettori tipped the scales once again when both men fell lbw in consecutive overs. Bell was decidedly unfortunate - the ball clearly deflected off an inside edge - but Pietersen could have no complaints as he once again stepped across his stumps to be rapped on the shin.
At 149 for 4, England still required 80 to win from 14 overs, but Collingwood was in no mood to succumb to another embarrassment. With Shah alongside him, England ticked off the singles until they were within striking distance, and then Collingwood cut loose. A volley of four sixes and two fours in nine balls - including a cheeky reverse dab and an effortless pick-up over the ropes - allowed England to coast home with a full three overs to spare. It might not be enough to expunge the memories of Hamilton, but it was just the tonic the team needed. And more importantly, it kept the series alive.